The Linley’s return

Oldest daughter Katy, with Mat, Phoebe and Jonah, are AIM mission partners at Mandritsara Good News hospital, Madagascar.  They began their 2010 home assignment with a family party in Morden.

St Lawrence Morden Surrey: morning sermon June 13th 2010

Sermons usually put on:

Readings:  2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15; Luke 7:36-8:3

My story begins in Morden, South London in 1880, 137 years ago, when my grandmother was baptised. The Rector then was William Winlaw – an early photo shows an austere Victorian white-haired bearded gentleman. Why Mr Coquerel, a Frenchman, brought his English wife and several little girls to live in Chalgrove house, Morden I don’t know – he must have been working in central London, catching the train from what is now Morden Road tram-stop. The family later moved to another house in Morden, next to what was then the Rectory – a daughter church to the parish church was built there later to cater for the huge new Council Estate – St Helier built after the First World War.  In 1880, one Sunday afternoon, there was a baptism service at St Lawrence Morden, several little girls – one my Granny, baptised together with their baby brother. Presumably their father hadn’t bothered to see the girls baptised, until his son arrived.  The family moved away from Morden when Granny was still a little girl. The only memory of Morden I have from her, was her telling me how she remembered watching all the carriages and horse-drawn buses passing the bottom of her garden, on their way to the Epsom horse-races, on Derby day. It still happens, buses no longer horse-drawn, but several open-topped double-deckers come past St Lawrence, Morden the ladies holding on to their hats.

The reason I am telling you all this, that I am glad to say – the baptism promises made on behalf of two of my Granny’s sisters, Andree and Gillebert, were very much fulfilled, when they became missionaries in what was then the Belgian Congo. Andree married – her husband died and was buried there, Gillebert remained unmarried. I can remember them, feisty old ladies.  Granny married and had two daughters and a son, one daughter being my mother, who herself went to China as a missionary, met my dad, and the ‘Rest is History’, certainly as far as me and my siblings are concerned.  Widowed Great Aunt Aundree’s ashes are buried here in the graveyard, I have marked the spot with some bright red dahlia flowers – Aundree’s sister, my mother’s mother Jeanette, was cared for at the time by my mum, here at the Rectory.

It is a fact, that the missionary movement of the later 1800’s and the first part of the last century, depended very largely on women. Many of them unmarried, they could be found all over the world, nurses, teachers, evangelists, founding churches – more women than men. Part of the reason perhaps was the terrible slaughter of men in the first world war;  we remember tomorrow the centenary of Passchendaele, the third battle of Ypres, or Wipers, when over half a million men died on both sides – between July 31st and November, 1917.  That was the battle when mustard gas was used, to terrible effect.

Mainly young men literally laid down their lives as soldiers, in a conflict of very dubious origins. Many Christian women in Britain, chose of offer their lives in missionary service, and – especially in Africa, the church blossomed.

When the woman in St Luke’s showed her devotion to Jesus in that otherwise all-male company, she was forging the way for women down the centuries to show their devotion to Christ.  Picture the event as Luke records it. Matthew, Mark and John’s gospel describe an incident like this one just before the Last Supper and the crucifixion of Jesus. That involved Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus, John tells us. There are good reasons for accepting Luke’s story as recording a different incident, involving another Mary, Mary Magdelene.  Mary of Bethany’s anointing highlighted the question of Judas, about how devotion of Jesus should be shown, “surely the perfume should have been sold and given to the poor.” Luke describes instead, the love and forgiveness that Jesus offers to a sinner.

The meal Jesus was attending was not private, perhaps in a courtyard – people could come in and watch what went on. Only men reclined around the table, Simon the Pharisee and his friends. But it took courage for a prostitute to come in. A little alabaster jar, containing costly perfume, hanging on a cord round a woman’s neck was so much part of a woman that she was allowed to wear it on the Sabbath. As the men reclined, having taken off their sandals, it was easy for the woman to approach Jesus’ feet. Leon Morris, the Bible commentator, suggests that it was a mark of humility that she put the perfume on Jesus’ feet, normally it would be put on the hair for a very special occasion. There are it seems, a few other examples of the kissing of a rabbi’s feet in non-Biblical records, but anointing them and then the letting down of the hair – this it seems was a first ever occasion, although repeated once more by Mary of Bethany.

So Jesus tells Simon and his friends the story of the two debtors, as we heard it read. And the moral of the story is, not that the woman’s actions merited forgiveness, nor that her love merited it. She had already been forgiven. This was her response to God’s Grace. Simon had shown little love to Jesus, he had been forgiven little. What is our response to God’s forgiveness, offered us through the cross of Christ? Does our response reveal that we hold nothing back, recognising the extent of God’s love for us?

Before we leave the passage, note the first verses of Luke 8. Perhaps Mary Magdelene had been a prostitute, but it seems her worst problem was mental illness – perhaps allowing men to mistreat her mercilessly. We heard in the first reading, of how even as a good a man as King David could mistreat a woman for his own lust. But Jesus healed Mary miraculously, and together with Joanna, the wife of King Herod’s household manager, a lady called Susanna and many others, many women were also disciples, followers of Jesus.

Through Christ, we are “All one in Christ Jesus” Galatians 3:28. In Christ, there is no difference between us, no hierarchy of importance. Women have every bit as much an important part to play in the life of the church, as men. A history of St Lawrence, Morden tells us that once there was a text up on the wall : “Women must not talk in church.” Perhaps there has been a spate of women chattering during the Rector’s sermon – but it was of course a misunderstanding of the verse in 1 Timothy, where Paul says – against the culture of the city of Ephasus, where the cult of Diana reigned supreme, Paul says: “Women must not have authority over a man, she must be silent”. What he meant was, women must not always expect to have the last word in an argument!

We have, as male and female, unique characteristics, and that we should honour and cherish our differences. The maternal instinct is to offer everything to the child, the pain of childbirth and the fierce protection of nurture. It is the paternal instinct to protect at all costs, both mother and child. As our Western  society waters down these two instincts, that is surely the quick road to a society disintegrating. For any society to treat our different sexualities as if they are the same, leads in every case to quick collapse. Girls and boys need Christian role models, men and women with or without children, role models to help them find their identity and purpose, under God. I tried to say that in a letter seven years ago to the Bishop of Kingston, concerning a service in Southwark cathedral, led by Katharine Schori, the then presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the USA.  She had broken fellowship with the large part of the Anglican Communion, which holds to a Biblical, clear understanding of our sexualities. The letter I wrote follows this ‘blog.’

I want to focus your attention now, on the fact that in Jesus, complete forgiveness is offered, He has paid the price of human selfishness and sin – at incalculable cost, the one perfect life ever lived, knowing life more intensely than anyone has ever known, increasingly anticipating death, separation from God that he had known better than anyone has ever known, and finally laying down his sinless life, in death.  Which puts the challenge squarely before us – there – in front of our noses: what are we going to do about it? What is our response? Is it to be whole-hearted devotion and commitment to the Lord who died to save us, in self-giving love, but leading to life forever, in God’s perfect love?  Or do we chose self-love, love of self, and death without end?

Women in church? Oh, that Western men would make that same kind of all-consuming commitment, that one time my great-aunts, and parents offered. Oh, that we all would put ourselves in Mary Magdalene’s place, and give to Jesus our everything – because of what He has done for us. And then we will find our true purpose, in eternal fellowship and love with God, in Christ.

(A footnote added on July 30th 2017, the evening before the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the third Battle of Ypres – Passchendaele).  Thank God that boys and young men in the West are unlikely to be called upon to make such unquestioning, sacrificial and senseless obedience.  And yet of course, such devotion is called out from so many, even young children.

##  Two days ago by Boko Haram, allied to ISIS.  Nigeria’s acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, has spoken on the Boko Haram attack on oil explorers near the northern town of Maiduguri, causing many deaths.  Mr. Osinbajo described the victims as “extraordinarily selfless Nigerians, saying they “put their lives on the line so that we and generations to come will enjoy the resources of this land. We will never forget that sacrifice.”

##  By Al Shabaab, “Somalia’s insurgents and troops from the African Union peacekeeping mission clashed today, the group said it had killed 39 soldiers.  Al Shabaab fighters ambushed a convoy carrying troops. The ambush turned into a fierce fight between al Shabaab and government forces, fighting still goes on.  Al Shabaab wants to force out the peacekeepers, oust the Western-backed government and impose its strict interpretation of Islam in Somalia.

##  And we have very good reason to be chilled by the rhetoric of the North Korean government, as another ICBM is launched, to great rejoicing by its mainly young population.

We pray for them, together with our own children and young people in the West.  May they be spared the horrors of Passchendaele and the conflicts raging, even as I preach.  May they yet enjoy the full potential of their lives, for which God has created them to enjoy.  May we, with renewed commitment to our crucified and risen Lord, to make Him known, making disciples for Him, from all nations.


Saturday June 12th 2010:  Letter to the Bishop of Kingston –

Dear Bishop Richard,

I understand that the following letter is appearing in today’s Times:

“We wish to express our grave concern over the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church (USA), Katherine Jefferts Schori, preaching and presiding at Holy Communion in our Cathedral at Southwark this Sunday.

“Bishop Schori is well known for her doctrinal statements and practice that are contrary to the teaching of the Bible.  She is also well known for initiating many litigations against orthodox congregations within The Episcopal Church and defrocking doctrinally orthodox bishops and clergy, so exacerbating disunity in the Anglican Communion. More importantly it is only very recently that she defied the instruments of the Anglican Communion by reneging on the agreement made by the Episcopal Church of the USA to abide by the moratorium regarding the consecration of actively gay and lesbian bishops.

“We the undersigned clergy of Southwark Diocese, distance ourselves from Bishop Schori’s teaching and presiding in our cathedral.  We seriously question the judgment of those who have not withdrawn their invitation to her after her recent consecration of Mary Glasspool.

“Yours Faithfully,

“Sandy Christie (St Michaels, Blackheath), Christopher (CJ) Davis (St Nicholas, Tooting), Francis Gardom (St Stephens, Lewisham), Ian Gilmour (Holy Redeemer, Streatham Vale), John Goddard (Morden parish), Martin Hislop (St Lukes, Kingston-on-Thames), Stephen Kuhrt (Christ Church New Malden), David Larlee (St Marks, Battersea Rise), James Paice (St Luke’s Wimbledon Park), Paul Perkin (St Marks, Battersea Rise), Dan McGowan (St Martins, Morden), Precious Omuku (Morden parish), Ray Skinner (St Lawrence, Morden), Les Wells (Morden parish), Bill Wilson (St Stephen’s, South Lambeth).

The Times headline writer had headed the letter “Angry Anglicans”.  My personal letter to Bishop Richard went on….

Concerning the letter published in today’s Times, and on line:  Had I written the headline, it would have read “Heartbroken Anglicans….”

In my short reply to an email from you of the 10th, I asked if you will be at the cathedral tomorrow, with the implied hope that you would not be. If you had intended to be, I write now to ask you not to be.

You came to Holy Cross, Newcastle as curate in 1987, as I was leaving the North-East after 22 years of ministry there – as Durham student (more involved in youth-work than my studies), curate in Elswick Newcastle, vicar and rural dean back in Durham.

My leaving was a matter of considerable sorrow. As a director of Mission:England, I had seen over 500 North-East churches working together in evangelism, but with the arrival of David Jenkins as Bishop of Durham, that unity quickly dissipated. Of course, he was a marvellous ‘people bishop’, and I hope forgave me for publically petitioning the Archbishop of York to postphone his consecration for his crazy remarks about the historicity of the resurrection (which he privately withdrew in a letter to me). But he never picked up the enormous groundswell of churches working together for the Gospel that Mission:England had created. Meanwhile, God called me to go to Oman to learn more of Islam, but it was a hard leaving.

Now, after 20 years of South London ministry, with a continued strong commitment to to youth ministry, I appeal to you as my Bishop, ‘in the bowels of Christ’, do not identify yourself with Katharine Schori by being at our cathedral tomorrow.

Last night, I was able to take time out of hundreds of emails top do some youth-work. (My post-bag is of course usually much smaller than yours, but many people had been involved in the writing of our Times letter – and please note, many more would I’m sure have signed it, had we had more notice of Bishop Schori’s visit. The fact that the visit was approved by Archbishop Rowan nearly a year ago, but its announcement being made less than two weeks ago was a very cynical piece of media manipulation).

Morden parish runs one of the few ‘open’ youth clubs still around, but instead of policing the club in our little parish hall, took 18 lively 11-14 year olds to Ranmoor Common where they could run wild, and later walk with the leaders.

You got my potted history above, to underline my 50 years experience of teenagers. +Richard, I am horrified, literally, as to both the sexualized continual banter of boys, and their nearly total disrespect of adults. But that is the (non-Muslim) society that is fast developing around us. And the Anglican church in the west, is largely at fault for that, in not teaching Biblical standards for a strong and stable society within which children can flourish and themselves become responsible adults and parents.

One of the many emails received yesterday was from the Christian/Muslim Forum of which of course you are a co-chair (and I thank you particularly for that aspect of your ministry). It reported a small retreat of 13 Christians and Muslims, exploring together among other things ‘being male.’ Despite having a wife, five daughters and five grand-daughters, I still understand the female psyche little. But I do know that boys need good role-models, if they are to develop into happy, mature selfless adults… “Love your wife (and children), as Christ loved the church and gave his life for it…” Where is that in the teaching of modern, western Anglicanism? Certainly not in the teachings of Episcopal Church in America. As you surely recognise, Muslim society – despite its extremists – is far more stable than our post-Christian society. Of course, I long for Muslims to see in the Gospel the light of Christ, but if the only gospel they see is in Southwark Cathedral tomorrow, then I weep – just as I do for the children I spent a happy evening with yesterday – despite their behavior. I could go on, but I wanted you to share my heart with you. Please, don’t be at our cathedral tomorrow.

I look forward very much to welcoming you to the Morden next Sunday for the dedication of the Emmanuel church development, in a parish whose spiritual welfare both you and I will have one day to answer for.

Sincerely, Ray.